President Stephen C. Ainlay's 2015 Founders Day greeting

Publication Date

I would also like to welcome everyone to this celebration of the 220th anniversary of the charter bestowed upon Union College by the New York Board of Regents in 1795.

We have so much to celebrate; so much to be grateful for. For one, it’s an amazing feat to not only survive but thrive for 220 years. We are among relatively few institutions of higher education in this country that can make that boast. When I read accounts of Union’s first years in the 18th century or the challenges it faced during the American Civil War in the 19th century or institutional perils the College faced during the great Depression and World Wars of the 20th, I cannot help but be impressed and inspired by the resilience, commitment, and resolve of those who preceded us in stewarding this great institution.

If you need to be reminded of Union’s contributions to the world at large over the past 220 years, you need only visit the Nott Memorial and view the current display on Union’s role in the Civil War and the Lincoln administration. It’s been 150 years since the end of that horrific conflict and the tragic assassination of President Lincoln. Thanks to the work of Professors Andy Foroughi and Tom Werner, among others, the display reveals what can only be termed the “remarkable” role this institution has played.

As we celebrate our 220th anniversary, we should also celebrate some of the other “sub-anniversaries” of 2015. Consider, by way of example, the anniversaries associated with our campus radio program. Wayne Somers tells us, in his Encyclopedia of Union College, that the program dates to 1910 and that the student radio club held its first meeting in 1915 so we celebrate its 100th or 105th anniversary this year, depending on how you want to date the origin of the program. And, the first regular radio programming by Union dates to 1920 so we celebrate 95 years of regular broadcasting – an anniversary that puts Union in the record books. Using a 150 watt transmitter, Union students began a thirty week-long series on October 20, 1920. They played phonograph records into a microphone and broadcast the music to what had to have been a small audience of listeners. This series, which began 19 days before KDKA in Pittsburgh started its first regularly scheduled programming, justifies our claim to be “the first station in the nation.” Like so many “firsts,” this is contested terrain (not to get “into the weeds” but a station called 8MK in Detroit preceded Union with regularly scheduled broadcast but did so without a license). Nevertheless, the Union College regularly scheduled, licensed broadcast remains history-making and is certainly another anniversary to remember and celebrate.

And, 2015 affords us the opportunity to celebrate our continued commitment to the humanities. With the opening of the newly renovated Humanities building, we affirm our belief in the importance and relevance of the humanities to today’s world. How appropriate is it that we will dedicate the newly renovated Karp Hall 50 years after its original groundbreaking in 1965? Yet our commitment to and belief in the enduring value of the humanities extends far into our past and I am confident it extends far into our future.

More generally, we can also celebrate the continued relevance of Union’s educational mission. With a record number of applications, robust Early Decision requests, and an increasingly diverse applicant pool, we should be pleased that students and their families continue to believe that what we do here matters and that there is more history to be made.

Yes, we have much to celebrate at Founders Day 2015. And, I thank you all for braving the cold to mark this day.